Palestinians hope Blinken visit can deliver Gaza truce before Rafah assault


In one of the biggest battles of the war, Israeli tanks have been advancing for the past two weeks in Khan Younis, the main southern city, which was already housing hundreds of thousands of people who fled other areas. Fighting has also resurged in Gaza City in the north of the Strip, in areas Israel claimed to have subdued in the first two months of the war.

The Israeli military said on Monday its forces had killed dozens of Palestinian fighters in combat in areas in northern, central and southern Gaza over the last 24 hours.

Palestinians described heavy fighting in Gaza City, particularly its western areas close to the Mediterranean shore, which had come under bombardment from Israeli warships.

Palestinian health officials said they had recovered the bodies of 14 people killed in a strike on Khan Younis overnight. They have said repeatedly in recent days that rescuers are unable to reach many of the dead and wounded in the city.

Gaza authorities say more than 27,000 Palestinians have been confirmed killed in Israel’s assault, with thousands more dead feared unrecovered in the rubble. Israel says it has killed 10,000 gunmen and lost 226 soldiers in Gaza fighting, after 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas attacks on Oct 7.

After Israel announced last week that it was preparing for a potential ground assault on Rafah, international aid agencies and the UN said they feared the humanitarian consequences would be catastrophic, with no place left for residents to flee.

Gazans fear that a thrust into Rafah would drive them out of the enclave once and for all, into Egypt which rejects any attempt to force them across.

An Israeli official told Reuters that the military would coordinate with Egypt, and seek ways of evacuating most of the displaced people northward, ahead of any Rafah ground sweep.

A ceasefire now could head off such an assault, but would mean Israel pausing without having achieved its stated aim of annihilating Hamas. Some far-right members of Netanyahu’s cabinet have said they would quit rather than back such a deal.

Netanyahu says he is committed to “total victory”, and that any pause in fighting would only be temporary as long as Hamas fighters are still at large. Hamas says it will not agree a truce or free its hostages unless it receives guarantees that Israel will pull out of Gaza and end the war.

The exiled Hamas chief, Ismail Haniyeh, said last week he would travel to Cairo to deliver his response to the ceasefire proposal, but he has yet to turn up there and Hamas has set no timetable for his trip.

A Palestinian official with knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters the Hamas response could come “soon”, but it was up to Blinken to nudge Netanyahu to make the concessions that would get the ceasefire deal over the line.

“Netanyahu doesn’t want to end the war. He wants a hostage release deal. That is far short of what our people will accept,” the official said in an interview over a messaging app.

“Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other factions want guarantees the occupation will be committed to ending the war on Gaza and pull out its forces from there. Those are the key demands,” he said. “The Americans can restrain Netanyahu if they want to end the war and succeed in mediation.” 

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